Across the state, community leaders are stepping up to share their voices to call for policies that better serve them. Their powerful testimonies motivate our work.
Humu Issifu, South Side Chicago
Humu Issifu knows how difficult it is to scrape by -- and how much of a difference the Earned Income Credit (EIC) can make for a family like hers. As a caregiver of two children under the age of six, Humu is focused on paying immediate expenses like groceries, bills, and rent -- costs that have increased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Humu was connected with LIFT-Chicago, an organization that introduced her to the EIC program. As a current EIC recipient, Humu states that, “Every cent of my income tax refund goes right back to my family. I’ve used the earned income credit to help purchase a car, buy meals for my kids who are home remote learning, and pay down student loan debt.”
Expanding the EIC would make sure Humu and other caregivers like her are able to depend on financial assistance to build a better life for themselves and their families, “especially in times like these.
Jennifer Agne, Downers Grove
The “Sandwich Generation” looks like Jennifer, a 56-year-old from Downers Grove. During the height of the coronavirus crisis, a parent’s unexpected hospitalization and diagnosis of dementia caused the mother of 4 to step away from a career as a mortgage banker. Now, like other members of the “sandwich generation” Jennifer’s days are consumed by her “all-consuming” role as a dual caretaker of her own children and her aging parent.
“Caregiving is a full time job you don’t get to step away from, unless you have help,” Jennifer emphasizes, noting the time spent between grocery trips, doctors appointments, and the logistics of not leaving her ailing mother alone.
The hands-on care Jennifer provides for her mother is essential to her well-being. It’s also a choice the family felt compelled to make after noticing the lack of attention to care in her mother’s former assisted living facility. In-home care from a family member allows Jennifer’s mother to “feel ownership of her surroundings and own life” with an attentive home care environment that provides dignity. This, in large part, has driven Jennifer to open her own shared senior home in Lisle, Illinois, to provide that same dignity to more select older residents with a live-in Certified Nursing Assistant, which Jennifer sees as a model for future senior living arrangements.
Caregivers like Jennifer deserve financial stability to ensure they can both provide quality home care for their loved ones and invest in their own selves. “It’s really critical that we take a look at the emerging pop of our seniors because the need is just going to continue to grow -- if you look at the census, our senior pop is going to be booming and I don’t think we’re equipped or ready to handle that with good options. We need to get behind this bill’s expanded funding to figure out how to pay for that care and support caregivers in situations like me.”
Jose Sanchez, South Side Chicago
Jose is a 42-year-old dedicated husband and father of 4 children (ages 6, 8, 10, & 18) who has lived with his wife on Chicago’s South Side for 17 years. Their double-earner household was hit hard during the COVID-19 crisis, which worsened existing financial instability.
“I don’t even know how I’ve managed to make it through, myself!” Jose remarked about the past year. Both he and his wife lost their hotel jobs in March 2020. The loss of income was compounded by the fact that Jose’s household was ineligible for the tax credits and COVID-related relief programs available to most low-income households, due to their status as immigrants. As a result, the family was forced to stretch their limited savings to keep afloat this past year. While some bill extensions and payment plans options helped Jose manage the pile of bills, the stack of mortgage and truck payments is weighing him down with worry.
Despite working and paying taxes for years, Jose and his wife are still ineligible for Earned Income Credit tax relief due to their ITIN filer status, along with many of their neighbors; some of whom have been unemployed and houseless for over a year, prompting community efforts to collect donations and direct resources. Expanding Illinois’ EIC to include ITIN filers would be a “super mega financial help” for families like Jose’s who could rely on the $500--$1,000 per month to pay off immediate bills and invest in their families’ mental and physical security.
Krystal Peters, Englewood (Chicago)
Krystal Peters is a caregiver, both on the clock and off. Officially, the West Englewood resident is her mother’s home care aid; unofficially, she cares for her mother full time, in addition to her three daughters. Krystal’s motivation to move her community forward is palpable. The registered-CNA spends over 40 hours per week caring for her 71-year old mother battling cancer (though she is paid for 20), in addition to serving as her community’s National Block Club District Leader, a secretary of Policy Steering Committee at Workers’ Center For Racial Justice, and running her own business as a “financial therapist,” helping clients from her community build and repair their credit and find ways to obtain more money.
COVID-19 hit home in 2020. First, Krystal’s two older daughters moved back from college. While the two older daughters attempted to find work in safe conditions, Krystal continued her work while navigating childcare solutions for her youngest daughter. Caring for her children by covering the costs of college and childcare are always her largest debts, and each month she owes. Sadly, Krystal lost two family members to the virus. Like many, Krystal has a set amount of bills each month; so when she had to call off work during the pandemic to care for her family’s needs, it prevented her from being able to pay the bills, fill the car with gas, and properly attend to her client’s needs.
If the bills were paid and she had more access to cash, Krystal would use more cash to help her family, invest in herself by further expanding knowledge on finances and investing in stocks, and better herself to maintain good health so she can continue to be a great caregiver.
Maria, Suburban Chicago
Maria is a self-reliant single mom who has been in the Chicago suburbs for 25 years. A proud American who wants her daughters to thrive here, Maria has put everything into their education. All of Maria’s income, and what her oldest daughter can spare, goes to pay the utility bills and debt, the $1,100 monthly rent payment, and to put food on the table. There is never extra to go around.
When the pandemic started, Maria quit her job as a machine operator to stay home to be with her four daughters and young granddaughter. Then she got sick with COVID-19. To protect her children, Maria rented a separate apartment. She spent her days calling every single agency and charity in her area repeatedly to try to get help. Now whenever she finds a resource, she shares it with other families in need. She’s been driving families in her community, specifically older adults who are at a higher risk, to the local food bank every week. Neighbors who never spoke before the pandemic are now pooling together toilet paper, milk, soap, and other supplies to make it through.
If Maria had enough cash to pay the bills, she said her next goal would be to learn English and process her immigration request. She also said she would give whatever she had left to the needy members in her community who are in a similar situation to her. She worries about both mental health crises facing her community. Still, she has hope, she says, “I know there is enough money. [here, in this country]. We just need the help.”
Liliana, Suburban Chicago
Liliana cares for her community. When she is not working part time in her retail job, or organizing parents in her community as co-chair of COFI PowerPAC, Liliana cares for her three children and granddaughter. For the past 29 years, Liliana and her husband have called Illinois home.
When the COVID-19 Pandemic came on, it hit Liliana’s family hard. Both Liliana and her husband, who works in construction, first had their hours cut-- then, tragically, they both contracted COVID-19. Since they are both immigrants and ITIN filers, they did not qualify for federal relief, their dual income home was bringing in no money. Resourceful and well connected to her community, the generosity of her neighbors and a $500 cash stipend helped her family. Though the cash was enough to purchase food to return to health, Liliana was unable to return to work until July. Transitioning from 3 shifts to zero income was tough on the whole family.
An economically secure future is within reach for Liliana. She says, “I didn't work for several months. All the assistance we got was to get back on track. I don’t have that much debt. Whenever I have money, that money goes to pay the bills.” For $1,200 she could pay her insurance. With a little more cash, she could pay her mortgage. If there were any extra, she would rent a hotel for the evening with her daughter, who wants so badly to swim in an indoor swimming pool.
Elizabeth, Glen Ellyn
Elizabeth is a former systems engineer who left her career in 2001 to care for her mother, father, and now sister, the last of whom needs full-time care through her ovarian cancer treatment. Elizabeth dedicated herself to providing constant care to her father, a WWII veteran who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for 14 years until his passing in 2014. She continued to care for her mother, both by assisting her in daily living and taking her swimming multiple times a week until her later passing in 2019.
The expense of providing full-time, unpaid care has been difficult for Elizabeth, especially without the income from her previous full-time job. Caring for her loved ones has “ripped away [her] career,” and in Elizabeth’s case, has also led to skills loss in the rapidly changing field of computer technology, despite applicable workforce knowledge. The frustration of employment loss, coupled with increased financial responsibilities, has led to psychological burnout from the tolls of unpaid caregiving.
Expanding the Earned Income Credit to unpaid caregivers would recognize the essential role of caregivers in the economy, and support them in their journey to “bring dignity to those that they loved.” Caregivers like Elizabeth deserve financial stability and freedom from worry about employment at the end of their care journey. If she had extra money from the EIC, Elizabeth could invest in her goal of creating a program for caregiver internships to help others like her re-enter the workforce.
Mekal, Austin (Chicago)
Mekal Stewart spends his days mentoring and teaching kids in the South Side of Chicago. The 22 year old is a recreational leader for the Chicago Park District, where he has devoted his work days and personal time to sharing his love of soccer. When he’s not at work, he’s devoted to taking care of his mother and younger brother who he lives with in East Chicago.
Mekal earns what he calls an “average salary,” but his chances for upward mobility are limited. He aspires to be an electrician and to learn more languages, specifically French and Italian. If he were able to meet his daily expenses, Mekal could start saving for his future. He often reminds his younger brother and the kids he mentors of the value of money.
A cash stipend helped him through the beginning of the pandemic when his car sputtered out. In order to have access to reliable transportation, Mekal needed to shell out close to $800 for a repair. Having access to a $500 cash transfer allowed Mekal to pay for the majority of the maintenance costs. Like any young person, Mekal has big dreams and ambitions. He wants options and opportunities beyond his hometown. He’s a strong proponent of cash policy because it has provided a lifeline for him when he needed it. If allowed more access to cash, Mekal says he could start to plan his finances, which would “put [him] in the position to live more freely.”